Bangarra Dance Theatre

OUR land people stories: Learn more about the creative process of Bangarra’s 2016 work

45 min watch

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s 2016 season of OUR land people stories is a new triple bill with a host of choreographers. Importantly, the work tells three very different stories of Australia’s cultural heritage.

•   The first work in the triple bill, Macq, is choreographed by Bangarra’s own Jasmin Sheppard. First performed in 2013 during Dance Clan 3, it explores the 1816 March of Macquarie – a historical chapter that decimated Sydney’s Aboriginal community.
•   Miyagan, choreographed by Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley Smith, is a poignant dance story mapping their cultural heritage in a discovery of their family background on Wiradjuri country in New South Wales.
•   Finally, Bangarra Artistic Director Stephen Page brings Nyapanyapa which tells the story of internationally acclaimed visual artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu from North East Arnhem Land. This piece draws inspiration from her incredible life story and paintings.

In this collection of photos and films, we’re invited into Bangarra’s rehearsal studios, see the detail of the set and costume designs, and talk to the choreographers of these three works. From this, we can learn more about the unique artistic process.

Making Macq

Choreographer Jasmin Sheppard explores the two sides to Lachlan Macquarie in Macq. Here she tells us about her drive and creative process.

“An encroaching statue of Lachlan Macquarie’s head there prompted in me the question: who was this man? It was as though the more I saw his name, the more I saw his name.

Macquarie is known as the father of New South Wales in our education system, and yet, for the First Nations people of the Sydney area, their reality was influenced by an entirely different man to the one whom we are taught to know. I wanted to delve into this reality and peel back the layers of this man, and what impact his actions have had on Aboriginal past and present.

From my research at the Mitchell Library, and through consultation with Frances Bodkin and Gavin Andrew – direct descendants of the D’harawal people who lived at Appin – a more complex story unfolded. Macquarie’s diary entries convey his feelings toward the First Nations community, and I felt a strong responsibility to tell their experience, and uncover the trauma he was ultimately responsible for.

“The seed for Macq started when I first became aware of the 1816 massacre at Appin while living in Liverpool in Western Sydney around a decade ago.”

By the early 1800s, Lachlan Macquarie had established a reputation as a generous and fair Governor of the broader Sydney region. His initiatives for the ‘natives’ in the early days of his governance included providing farmland for the men; schooling for a handful of children; and the annual Durbur picnics at Parramatta.

Indeed, descendants of those killed in the Appin massacre recall stories of some 12 years of peace and friendship between settlers and the D’harawal before Macquarie’s declaration of war in April 1816, and this changed the course of history.

The first signs of tension had arisen in other areas between settlers and Aboriginal people, and what may have been good intentions on Macquarie’s part eventually gave way, revealing his true loyalties. His diary entries uncover his frantic attempt to keep Aboriginal people aware of their boundaries, and the drastic measures he took to regain control.

Australians from every background deserve to know the full history of our home, including the uncomfortable parts that are often hidden. In shared ownership of this history lies true reconciliation.

2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the Appin massacre, therefore how poignant it is that this story is shared.

So much of Sydney is named for him, but what legacy has the darker side of his governance left for us all?”

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Making Miyagan

Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley Smith learned about their bloodline connection (turns out they are cousins) after meeting at Bangarra Dance Theatre. Miyagan came from wanting to tell a Wiradjuri story and reconnect back to their shared culture and heritage. Here, Beau and Dan share their personal stories and the unique approach they took to co-choreographing.

“We are Indigenous men from the Wiradjuri nation, Rileys, cousins, from Western New South Wales. We can trace our familial connection back to our Great-Great Grandfather Jack Riley, who lived on Talbragar Reserve in Dubbo in the early 1900s. We explored this connection with the guidance of Aunty Di and Aunty Lyn, learning of the matrilineal totemic system consisting of five levels: Nation, Moiety, Clan, Family and Individual.

Kinship, and the bonds we all share as Indigenous people of this land, are what connects us to land, to each other and to our cultural responsibilities. It also influences our social behaviour. There is nothing more valuable than miyagan, without kinship/family there is no life.”

“Miyagan came from wanting to tell a Wiradjuri story, and reconnect back to a shared culture and heritage – it is narrated by the Wiradjuri kinship system.”

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Making Nyapanyapa

Stephen Page’s work Nyapanyapa was inspired by internationally acclaimed visual artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu from North East Arnhem Land. Here, Stephen talks about his collaborative approach to his work.

“Nyapanyapa Yunupingu is an inspiration. She is a proud Yolngu woman from the Gumatj clan of North East Arnhem Land, a strong figure in her community who creates her art simply because it’s in her blood.

Painting for her is a meditative process – a place of reflection, embedded in her life and history. It reminds me of why I started dancing as a young man – because I had to, because it was my calling, and because it took me to a safe and spiritual place.

“Together [at Bangarra] we have our own collaborative creative process; the dancers join me in the creation of the choreography, bringing their energy, style and passion to the story.”

Stepping into the studio, hearing that unmistakable Bangarra music, seeing the dance ensemble barefoot and low to the ground and creating dance stories is my sacred space.

Nyapanyapa is so innately talented that her works give endless joy to those who see them. Each time I visit Yirrkala, I’ve always felt drawn to her energy, her spirit. I’ve long admired her paintings and her last series featuring young dancing girls fascinated me and sparked the idea for a creative exchange. But it is her Buffalo Story painting, which won her the prestigious Telstra Art prize in 2008, that was a jumping off point for this work.

… Together [at Bangarra] we have our own collaborative creative process; the dancers join me in the creation of the choreography, bringing their energy, style and passion to the story. Working alongside the next generation of storytellers invigorates and inspires me…

… Our Head of Design Jacob Nash travelled to Yirrkala multiple times to observe Nyapanyapa and her work, and his creative realisation of her paintings is extraordinary. We spent hours together in the gallery and his passion for the work in turn drove mine…”


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QPAC First Nations

Acknowledgement of Traditional Custodians

We pay our respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestors of this land, their spirits and their legacy. The foundations laid by these ancestors – our First Nations Peoples – gives strength, inspiration and courage to current and future generations, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, towards creating a better Queensland.